A four-seater ‘Vette would have taken on the bigger Thunderbird
News broke this week that GM’s considering turning the Corvette into a sub-brand rather than just another model in the Chevrolet lineup, with an electric four-door and an SUV. Details are scant at the time, but apparently GM plans to forge ahead with this for the 2025 model year and has been benchmarking Porsche’s Taycan and Cayenne. But, just as the suggestion of the mid-engine Corvette took decades to come to fruition, the idea of expanding the Corvette beyond its two-seater sports car format to keep up with the competition has been around at least since the early Sixties.
Not counting the Waldorf Nomad show car, an early take by Chevrolet on what the Corvette would have looked like as a station wagon, the earliest proposal for something other than a two-seater Corvette came in 1961, when Ed Cole asked Bill Mitchell to design a four-seat version of the pending 1963 Corvette. Mitchell, according to an article that Michael Lamm wrote for the December 1980 issue of Special Interest Autos, then turned to Larry Shinoda to make it work.
“Buick had already designed the 1963 Riviera but was still 18 months away from production,” Lamm wrote. “Design of the standard two-place Corvette for ’63 had also been completed and was being released for tooling.”
Shinoda and the special projects studio thus added six inches to the Corvette’s wheelbase, trying not to alter the car’s shape too much. The doors soaked up much of that length, which makes sense, given the need for rear-seat passengers to get in and out, but Lamm also noted an apparent stretch to the split-window glass and an increase in roof height.
It wasn’t just a clay styling study, either, getting a designation of XP-796. The special projects studio added actual rear seats that folded down as well as lengthened door panels, longer door glass, and stretched internal door hardware, judging by the fact that the doors could still be opened. The longer doors even necessitated slight reworking of the door cuts into the roof. In addition, as Lamm noted, the engineers got involved in the project, strengthening “the pickup area of the 1963 Corvette frame to accept the extra weight of a four-passenger version.”
In hindsight, perhaps Shinoda and the engineers shouldn’t have taken the concept beyond the styling study stage, however. “GM design director Charles M. (Chuck) Jordan reflects that no one at GM Styling, as it was then called, really cared for the four-seater,” Lamm wrote. “Most thought it was ungainly at best.”
Shinoda offered another reason why the four-seater Corvette never went anywhere, according to CorvetteBlogger: